UNION SQUARE — Weekends are the lifeblood of farmers' markets. So when Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Irene forced the Union Square Greenmarket to close, many vendors were left laden with perishable products in danger of going bad.
While many brick-and-mortar businesses around Manhattan remained closed on Monday, 25 vendors trudged out to Union Square and set up shop after being closed from noon Saturday to Monday morning. Some drove for hours, skirting flooded roadways, to recoup at least some sales.
Ed Huff, 60, of the Central Valley Farm in Hunterdon County, N.J., was advertising sales on mozzarella cheese and heirloom tomatoes on Monday morning in an effort to bring in customers and get rid of his stock.
“This stuff is very perishable,” Huff said, “so if I don’t get down here, I lose it.”
Huff said his farm in central New Jersey suffered some damage because of the storm, although none of it was structural.
“We had some loss,” he said. “It could have been worse.”
Business was a little slow at his stand on Monday, but Huff said he was hopeful foot traffic would pick up around lunchtime. He was planning to stick around until about 7 p.m. to sell as much as he could.
Wade Karlin, of P.E. & D.D. Seafood, said several of his Saturday regulars had stopped by to choose from his assortment of swordfish, tuna, flounder, scallops and mussels.
Karlin, who lives in Mattituck, N.Y., said he went fishing on Saturday before the storm, then steered his boats to a marina and hauled them out of the water before Irene hit.
“Me and my two faithful pussy cats were able to watch the docks,” said Karlin, who turns 45 on Tuesday.
Karlin said he lost power in the storm, but the boats came through it unscathed.
“We’re OK,” he said, “just glad that we’re able to sell some stuff.”
Roughly 12 regular vendors didn’t show up on Monday, leaving the area around Union Square pocked with a few vacant spaces, Hughes said. He assumed damage to their farms or homes had kept them away.
“I’m delighted today because we have a greenmarket,” said David Hughes, 40, operations manager of the Union Square Greenmarket.
Irene also left limbs and debris strewn around Union Square Park, Hughes said, and Con Edison had used Union Square as a staging area throughout the storm.
“So it was choked with vehicles,” Hughes said. “We weren’t sure if they were going to leave.”
By Monday, the Con Ed trucks had dispersed. Crews working in the Union Square Park lawn were raking up piles of leaves, not limbs. And the trains—which play a crucial role in ferrying customers to the market—were up and running.
Consider Bardwell Farm, based in West Pawlet, Vt., was already waterlogged before Hurricane Irene pummeled the area with even more rain, said Poul Price, 32, who was manning the farm’s booth at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Price said he wasn’t sure how the farm, which specializes in farmstead goats’ milk and artisan cows’ milk cheeses, had fared in the storm. But bad weather forced the farm to miss five farmers' markets over the weekend.
Price froze his fresh cheeses, which have a one-week shelf life, so they wouldn’t go bad and set up his booth in Union Square on Monday to salvage what business he could.
“The only thing I can do now is try to make as much money as I can,” said Price, who rode out the storm from his home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
As part of his money-making strategy, Price was holding a “tropical storm” sale on 5-ounce packages of goats’ milk cheese, charging just $4 instead of the normal price of $6.
“It was a hurricane special, but it got downgraded,” Price said with a laugh.